London - Britain's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal to raise funds for the Ebola outbreak in west Africa on Wednesday, the first time the charities group has sought to raise money in response to a disease.
The outbreak of the heamorrhagic fever that began in March has killed nearly 5,000 people, according to World Health Organization figures, the vast majority in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
DEC, made up of 13 of the country's biggest aid charities including Oxfam and the British Red Cross, said the Ebola appeal reflected the fact that the disease was causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
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"The explosive spread of Ebola in west Africa is not just killing the infected but also ripping apart health services, devastating communities, and destroying people's ability to support themselves," DEC said in a statement.
DEC said some areas in west Africa faced catastrophe within 60 days if urgent action was not taken to stop Ebola's spread, which happens through contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or someone who has died of the disease.
European states have stepped up their contributions of cash, mobile treatment centres and health workers after criticism from aid officials of a slow early response to an outbreak that has infected an estimated 10 000 people since the start of the year.
Historically DEC appeals have focused on disasters such as floods, famines, earthquakes, typhoons and conflicts.
The DEC appeal will be aired on all of Britain's major broadcasters on Thursday.